STRADDLING the equatorial belt, between the main mass of Asia and Australia, lush, tropical, volcanic Indonesia is the largest agglomeration of islands to form a single country anywhere in the world. In fact, the word Nusantara, or “archipelago”— the affectionate term used by Indonesians for their country — perhaps describes it better than the German-invented, Greek-derived “Indonesia” which means simply “the isles of the Indies.” Borneo, or Kalimantan as it is now called, the largest of the islands, is about the size of France; the smallest bits of land are scarcely more than sandbars which appear at low tide and are submerged the rest of the time, with house to house communication carried on in tiny boats.

Indonesia embraces both the southernmost extremity and the easternmost extent of what is generally known as Asia. Looking at the map, one sees underneath Indonesia only a minute speck Christmas Island — in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean which stretches all the way down to Antarctica. The famous Wallace Line, which falls between Bali and the neighboring island of Lombok, divides Asia, proper from Australasia, a fairly distinct ecological demarcation. Thus, for example, the tiger, an animal unique to Asia, is found no further east than Bali, while the cockatoo, a characteristic bird of Australia, does not exist that far west. As the flora and fauna change at the Wallace Line, so do the people: the Asian-looking Malays — the basic racial type of Indonesia — are lighter-skinned than the Melanesian and Micronesian islanders who live further east and are temperamentally different.

Economically, Indonesia, because of its petroleum, rubber, tin, and a host of other valuable natural resources, stands near the top of the list of the world’s potentially richest nations. Theologically, it is the largest Muslim country in the world; despite the dividing distance of thousands of miles, at the hours of prayer Indonesian eyes turn towards Mecca. And I can think of no other country whose name summons up such altogether romantic associations: the novels of Joseph Conrad about Celebes; the “Wild Man” of Borneo; the orangutans (literally, “men of the jungle”) of Sumatra; the “dragons,” or prehistoric lizards of Komodo; the volupt uous women —and men — of Bali.

Act notwithstanding so many and such various distinctions, Indonesia has existed throughout the centuries in a curiously obscure isolation. Even after the steamship and the airplane became common means of transport, Indonesia remained little more than a sidetrip from Singapore for the more adventurous traveler. And even now theround-the-world cruise ships which include Indonesia in their itinerary content their passengers with a few days on Bali, entirely neglecting — most unjustly — the rest of the archipelago.

A number of informative books about the Dutch East Indies, as Indonesia was formerly called, were written by Dutchmen in the past, but few of them were widely read outside of Holland or even translated into other languages. Occasionally a short story from Indonesia has appeared in some minor literary journal in the West, and a few foreigners have written travelogues describing the surface appearance of what they saw during hurried trips. But aside from these rare bits of literature, Indonesia except perhaps for the one small island of Bali has remained an unknown quantity in most American and European thinking. Not long ago, in fact, a very eminent American asked publicly whether “the French" had left Indonesia yet! And just last week an otherwise well-educated friend of mine apologetically inquired where Indonesia actually was — in Asia? in Polynesia? near Africa?

The blame for this general ignorance about Indonesia rests not alone with the foreigner; the Indonesians themselves are partly responsible for it. They are by nature far more reserved — more withdrawn, as it were than such other Asians as the Indians, Chinese, or Japanese. Think, for example, of the dozens of Indian lecturers who have not been too shy to tour the United States, or the thousands of Chinese who used to study here before t he war.

What lies behind this apparent Indonesian desire for isolation? Perhaps it was the bitterness of Indonesian experience with the Western colonizer — as the following pages so graphically and almost pathetically illustrate — which made them draw back from explanations or self-justification. Or again, it may be that the narrow opportunities formerly provided for Indonesians to pursue their studies abroad made them wary in their dealings with other nationalities. Holland used to be about the only outlet for a student wishing higher education, and the first Indonesian girl ever to study in America — she has contributed to this collection — is still a comparatively young woman.

Whatever the reasons for their reticence in the past, a representative group of Indonesian leaders in various fields have now consented to write, in this publication, about their country as they know it — to give us their points of view in all candor, to expose their creative works in belles lettres, poetry, and art, and to discuss their problems openly while the outside world looks and listens. Their statements are of absorbing interest to all of us in the West who are concerned with contemporary world history. At last we find the Indonesian nation viewed not as a tourist attraction, or a venue of work or diplomacy, but as a hearth and heritage, an area which arouses passionate patriotism, fierce criticism, and profound literary inspiration. We the foreigners living far from Indonesia are able, if only kaleidoscopically, to learn about Indonesia as Indonesians wish it to be taught, and to see it as they themselves see it.

One cannot, of course, begin to do justice to a country and its whole culture in seventy-two pages. Many fascinating topics have had to be slighted and others curtailed almost to the point of stenographic abbreviation. There has not been space to cover the current political situation in detail or to analyze the results of the recent elections. When I first began my search for this material in 1954, Dr. Ali Sastroamidjojo of the Nationalist party was Prime Minister in Jakarta; during the editing, he was supplanted by I)r. Burhanuddin llarahap of the Masjumi (progressive Muslim) party; now, as we go to press, Ah Sastroamidjojo, returned to power in the recent elections, has formed a coalition cabinet based on the Nationalist, Masjumi, and Nahdatul Ulama (orthodox Muslim) parties, and supported by several of the smaller parties, including the Christian.

The picture can change so rapidly in a new country taking its first steps in democratic selfgovernment that I hardly dare predict how matters will stand by the time this publication is distributed. But of one thing I am certain: under the leadership of President Sukarno, the visionary patriot who inspired the islanders in their fight for independence, and who is more deeply and widely beloved than any other figure among them, Indonesia will move resolutely forward toward self-realization as a free nation. It is unlikely that Indonesia will align itself closely in foreign policy with the West — it will certainly not join SEATO in the near future, choosing rather a neutralist position like that of India —but it seems to me equally clear that it will not veer toward China or let itself be drawn into the Communist orbit.


THE timing of my own visits to Indonesia, coming, by coincidence, at six-year intervals, has enabled me to observe at first hand some very significant stages in the country’s evolution from colony to sovereign power. I first lived in Indonesia when the Dutch were still there: Jakarta was called Batavia (the old Roman name for Holland); the Dutch social clubs barred all Indonesians; servants wore traditional headdresses; and the names of revolutionary leaders like Sukarno and Hatta and Sjahrir could only be whispered. A calm, which seemed more stagnant than ominous, lay heavily over the islands.

The second time I came to Indonesia was in the midst of the revolution, at a moment when Sukarno was a captive on Bangka Island. But by the time I left he had been released and had been able to form a provisional government in a small area around Jogjakarta, the main capital of Central Java. I shall never forget one evening when I dined alone with President Sukarno and his wife in a bare palace from which the departing Dutch had stripped all the furnishings. That night the President told me, with an intensity unusual for an Indonesian speaking before a stranger, “We will never give up the struggle until we alone are responsible for ourselves.”

Sukarno’s dream was realized, and on my most recent stay in Indonesia I found the country independent and the sole master of its destiny. The British may still hold part of Borneo, the Portuguese half of Timor, and the Dutch continue to linger on in New Guinea (West Irian), but Indonesia is nonetheless at last a free agent in world affairs. It sends its delegates to the Cnited Nations, it played host to the epoch-making Bandung Conference of Asian and African nations last year, and it negotiates its trade agreements directly with other countries.

With its stains so vastly improved, I had hoped to find a mood of exuberance in Indonesia. I did find enthusiasm and optimism, but it was an optimism clouded by worry, conflict, and frustration. An era of thorough contenlmerit has not yet been reached. Perhaps, indeed, the most satisfying period that Indonesia has enjoyed the only time when its people could really have been called happy in several centuries — occurred during the white heat of the revolution, when every heart was united and each issue was clear in every mind — except for the few diehards who could not accept ihe inevitable surge toward freedom. After ihe excitement of revolution and the thrill of independence there seems to have ensued a kind of psychological letdown.

Yet who can fail to sympathize with the Indonesians in their temporary feeling of discouragement ? Not only in the essay written for this collection by Sutan Sjahrir, the socialist leader who speaks for the “loyal opposition,” but even in the picture of the economic situation presented by the Vice-President, Dr. Hatta, we can sense the burden which almost insurmountable material and technical difficulties have placed on a young and inexperienced nation, It was always Dutch policy to save the important posts in the Indies, both in business and government, for its own nationals, for whom there was insufficient opportunity in the crowded homeland. This meant that Indonesia came to the responsibilities of self-government with a total insufficiency of trained managerial personnel. Thus I was told that in the entire Ministry of Agriculture only one person holds a B.S. degree, and not one has a doctorate. Less than two thousand medical practitioners must minister to the needs of eighty millions. And in the army it is freely admitted that generals were sometimes made out of corporals and second lieutenants.

Beyond this heritage of inferiority, the Dutch, as the price of capitulation and to protect their own economy from sudden collapse, imposed on Indonesia certain restrictive agreements. These have recently been abrogated by Indonesia, but perhaps prematurely if one considers that the new nation may not as yet possess sufficient strength and skill in industry, shipping, banking, and foreign marketing. Food to raise the living standard of a growing population is another serious problem. Great st rides are being made in improved farming methods and irrigation, but only this March Indonesia contracted for a substantial purchase of surplus agricultural commodities from the United States.

Dr. S. Takdir, himself one of its architects, tells in his article of the difficulties in creating a unified, serviceable language for the new country, and of some of the enormous problems to be solved in providing education for the masses. Mr. Tan Eng-kie, a leading journalist of the Indonesian Chinese community, outlines some of the sensitive adjustments necessary to protect the interests of the minorities: Chinese, Arabs, IndoEuropeans, and the remaining Dutch.

Finally, as if these staggering tasks were not enough in themselves, our Indonesian friends have often had to face them without the apparent encouragement of those to whom they might logically look for most support in the West. It would be as unrealistic to deny that much of the press coverage of Indonesian affairs in the West has been unfavorable, and even at times unpleasant, as it would be to assert that the Indonesians had no problems and had made no errors of judgment. Granted that in a time of international anxiety such as ours, when fine discriminations in journalism give place to such easy formulae as “he who is not with us must therefore be against us,”real objectivity is hard to achieve, I still feel that the foreign press has been dealing harshly with Indonesia. Yet, in fairness, I concede that Indonesia is without question the most difficult country of Asia for the Westerner — even the trained reporter—to comprehend or to cope with, either intellectually or emotionally. As a result, much of what Indonesia may lake for hostility is often simply a difference of viewpoint or plain failure to penetrate a mentality whose motivations are based on unfamiliar patterns of thinking and logic.

It is undeniable that Indonesia abounds with good intentions; a very positive force is surging throughout the nation. In the darkest moments a radiant quality in the Indonesian people shines through. The tasks ahead are enormous, but already much progress toward rehabilitation has been made. The groundwork for a new and better society has been laid. With time, and with sympathetic patience from the West, Indonesia will find its true place and play an important role in the international community. And as the new country grows and builds, ihe closer we can come to it, the more we can learn about it, the richer we will ourselves become — economically, culturally, and possibly it might even be one day, politically.